Friday, September 6, 2019

I Wish I'd Written This

Counting on Murwillumbah

3 police cars chase a Holden down Main Street,
lacing our life with sirens, burning rubber and risk.

An older battle platform, a grey plank, is wedged into a dead tree trunk in the park.
Here we are to remember that pioneers with balance and crosscut saws tamed ‘the big scrub’.

Cheers rang out as each straight, 2000 year old, red gold pole fell.
And fell. All gone in 30 years.

Opportunities are still sought. There are 4 opportunity shops in town and the homeless man sleeping in a red car on the reserve tells us that the snakes and spiders are out now.

Regardless, that night we eat at one of 3 Indian restaurants in the street under orange fairy light. 3 children, laughing, push each either in a supermarket trolley past the restaurant along the nearby empty pavement.

2 streets away the Sikh temple’s cupolas glow. Their school notice board says truth is self knowledge. The nearby Anglican church fete sells coconut ice in tiny, handmade paper baskets.

Blessings arrive from 2 more directions. The Hare Krishna temple, just out of town, has a golden cow guarding us all. The Austral cafe also welcomes us into its pale blue 1950s booths.

And 4 currawongs call from red seeded chandeliers that drip from the Bangalow palms.

The carpet snake that lives in the roof of the old Queenslander is not so blessed.

He took a kitten in his huge embrace and ate it.
‘Relocation’ will be his punishment.
Will he, original dweller, find his way home?

7 brush turkeys parade through my backyard seemingly unsurprised by life and the big black vertical tail that follows their every step.

They live on the hill under the camphor laurels, the weed trees, non-natives, new residents, like me.

Nola Firth

Murwillumbah has been my home town since I moved here from Melbourne in November 1994. Nola Firth also came here from Melbourne, much more recently. It’s delightful to recapture, through this poem, the experience of first making the town’s acquaintance as a new resident. It is the title poem of her recent book. 

The manuscript was the winner of the 2017 Dangerously Poetic / Byron Bay Writers’ Festival poetry prize, and the book was published in 2018. (The annual Byron Bay Writers’ Festival is a prominent national event; ‘Dangerously Poetic’ is the  name of a longstanding regional group of poets.)

The book is available in paperback from the publisher, Mark Time Books, or direct from the author. Please feel free to email her with that or any other query.

Nola (aka Dr Nola Firth) has had a distinguished academic career, most recently as Honorary Research Fellow: The University of Melbourne and Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Formerly a secondary school teacher, she made a study of dyslexia after noticing that a number of students, sometimes despite being smart and creative, consistently failed their classes. She gained 30 years’ experience in this area; developed and trialed a school-based dyslexia resilience program for her PhD and wrote a book on the subject, entitled Success and Dyslexia; participated in national dyslexia advocacy initiatives; and was the first recipient of an industry award named for her. You can Google Dr Nola Firth for more details. 

She tells me:

I am now well settled in Murwillumbah and I am currently writing poetry inspired by my reading of the diaries of the official 'protectors' of Aborigines and collections of letters written by aboriginal women who were forced to live on 'reserves'. My poems rejoice in the richness of aboriginal life, bear witness to the removal from Aborigines of basic rights in and to their own country by the white invaders and how we might belatedly ask for welcome despite the fact we originally classified them as fauna and carried out many massacres. I am also writing poems about the mass extinction of species. There are some simple joyous poems coming also!

Meanwhile, to round off her portrayal of our mutual home town (which each of us chose as that, relatively late in our lives) here is another from her book, written more from the perspective of one who has settled in and got to know the place. I love it because she is painting my Murwillumbah, too.


Through cracks
in our concrete paths,
down electric wires
that criss-cross our views, 
imperfection enters our town,
offers us its safety.

Like the weeds in our back streets
its seeds blow in on the wind
freeing a woman to walk down Main Street in long dress and rubber boots,
a philosopher to earn money picking passionfruit,
cows at the sale yards to roar their disorientation,
a tawny frogmouth to perch on a box in Office Choice
contemplating his own strange decision
before choosing a street tree instead.

Imperfection is comfortable here.
Mosaic stones
chipped by daily treading
still send out colour to cheer our feet.
Puddles in unpaved lanes keep us
close to the earth.
Labyrinthine corridors above our shops
hide dusty rooms with cheap rent
where artists can find their way.

But there is, also, a French cafe, that serves perfect macarons.

Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.


  1. I live in Vermont (USA). It’s an awesome place to reside. I haven’t always lived here, but I’ve always extolled its awesomeness in my poetry. But there was something different about how I reacted to and attempted to capture its awesomeness when I first arrived here (almost 30 years ago) than my efforts to do so today. I think that one of those differences is that, while I still write about the awesomeness of the place itself, I also now write almost as much about how the awesomeness of the place displays itself in how it affects and modifies those who live here.

    Now that My Beloved Sandra and I are both retired we’re considering relocation. To be honest, she’s considering it more intently than I. But one thing’s certain: Regardless of where we end up, it will no doubt have some degree of awesomeness, and I’ll certainly attempt to cash in (poetically speaking) on that novelty.

    These poems by Nola Firth give me much to think about when attempting to positively consider leaving my paradise. I suppose that a new paradise every now and then isn’t a bad thing. I think Nola Firth’s poems prove this point.

    I, too, wish I’d written them.

    1. Thanks, Ron. Good luck with your relocation! (May I suggest, if one is going to do that, the sooner the better, so as to be still young and fit enough to get around and make new friends in the new place.)

  2. Marvelous! The equality of Dr. Nola Firth's details is astounding, the richness even in--maybe because of--imperfection. My favorite detail is the unsurprised turkeys. This poet/educator sounds fascinating, and so does the town.

    1. We who live here love our town! (Smile.)

      (I know you meant 'quality' of details. Darned autocorrect!)

    2. I meant equality, but quality is also true.

  3. This takes me back. I remember all the kerfuffle over camphor laurels being weed trees. Left the rain forest area in 2007 . The Liverpool Plains are about half the distance from Sydney to now out past the black stump ...rugged, ancient, dry, big skies ferocious heat and not for the faint hearted ,no tourists, and a small slice of the outback as it was about 100 years ago and best of all no one wants to live here LOL

    1. Where you are now sounds very different, wonderful in its own way – but I still like it here. On our many beautiful days, perhaps when driving alongside the Tweed, I often say to myself, 'Why would anyone ever want to live anywhere else?' Mind you, 25 years ago, when I arrived, I considered it 'Australia's best-kept secret' but now it's not so well-kept and too many (other) people do want to come and live here. (Sigh.)

  4. A most exquisite poem by Nola Firth!❤️ Her use of language is so very effective in stirring emotions .. I find myself very moved by her words especially; "Mosaic stones chipped by daily treading still send out colour to cheer our feet." Yes, I wish I'd written this, Rosemary! Thank you for introducing me to her work, I shall look further into her poetry!❤️

  5. Oh, Rosemary, this was such a wonderful read! The poet writes your home town so clearly, she takes the reader right along with her. She makes me want to sit at the main intersection in my village and record what I see there, as we live in a quirky place, too, with much to enjoy. Her work inspires me to write, and I doubt there is a greater compliment to a poet.

    1. Oh, lovely! I hope you do that (and that we get to read the results).

  6. Rosemary, like Charlie Tuna, you have 'good taste". I like Nola Firth's essay poem ?? a lot. It finished with a good note, those transplanted. Soon I placed her in the Aus and have seen, even petted, some of the fowls though I remember the animals better, even have petted some of those. But the Currawongs I've never seen.
    I've been living around, much more before I married. Some were rented rooms, shared apartments twice. Since we married we lived in an apartment (Webster, TX) and houses in New Hampshire and then Houston, Friendswood, Montgomery, and now Katy, all in the Houston Metropolitan Area.
    We've traveled though to other places, been to all fifty states, six continents. Most in the Americas and Western Europe.
    If we ever moved it would be to Southern France or most any place in Italy. But Southeast Texas has fine Climate and air conditioning, friendly people.

    1. Oh, pity you missed the currawongs! They are spectacular, and have a beautiful song too.
      Places I have loved overseas, and wouldn't have minded living in, include Cusco, Peru, Bali in the seventies, Edinburgh, Scotland.... Austin, Texas, was pretty good too. (Never saw the south of France.) But I am glad I ended up in funny little Murwillumbah, surrounded by natural beauty. It suits me well.

  7. Thank you for introducing me to Nola Firth, Rosemary, and for sharing these stunning poems. I too am a formed secondary school teacher and have worked with dyslexic children, and I’m interested to read about her school-based dyslexia resilience programme and her book. I have also been interested in Australian place names, such as Murwillumbah, and aboriginal culture, having friends and family in Australia and New Zealand, so I am drawn to literature, films and poetry by and about aborigines.
    I enjoyed both poems, but these lines spoke to me from ‘Perfection’:
    ‘Imperfection is comfortable here.
    Mosaic stones
    chipped by daily treading
    still send out colour to cheer our feet.
    Puddles in unpaved lanes keep us
    close to the earth.’

    1. Yes, wonderful lines.

      I can see how this post would be of great interest to you. (Smile.)

  8. I enjoyed getting these glimpses of yours and Nola's hometown. A most talented poet indeed. She has a way with language.

    1. Yes indeed! And it's a very interesting town, in a very beautiful setting.

  9. I love "Perfection" so much, especially this line "Imperfection is comfortable here". It reminds me of how I feel about my body.

    1. My favourite quip (my own) about Murwillumbah is that it's the town where 'it's cool to be daggy'. Er, now I guess I have to try and explain the Australianism, 'daggy'. One meaning is 'uncool', but the best explanation I can find online is at Wikipedia:

  10. Truly splendid poems … an absolute pleasure to read. 'Counting on Murwillumbah', for me, was especially mesmerizing and carried me there, to that town - though, of course, I've never been. Awesome writing!

    1. I am very glad she has so brilliantly enabled me to share with you all this home I am so fond of.


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